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Stay in School, Don’t Become a Parent: Teen Life Transitions and Cumulative Disadvantages for Voter Turnout Julianna Sandell Pacheco and Eric Plutzer American Politics Research 2007; 35; 32 DOI: 10.1177/1532673X06292817 The online version of this article can be found at: http://apr.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/35/1/32

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Stay in School, Don’t Become a Parent

American Politics Research Volume 35 Number 1 January 2007 32-56 © 2007 Sage Publications 10.1177/1532673X06292817 http://apr.sagepub.com hosted at http://online.sagepub.com

Teen Life Transitions and Cumulative Disadvantages for Voter Turnout Julianna Sandell Pacheco Eric Plutzer Pennsylvania State University, University Park

We investigate three important life transitions—becoming a parent, getting married, and dropping out or graduating from high school—on the development of civic engagement. We qualify the socioeconomic status and resources frameworks by arguing that effects should differ across racial and ethnic lines. We address these issues by analyzing data from a nationally representative, 12-year panel study comprising more than 12,000 eighth graders in 1988 (National Educational Longitudinal Survey, 1988-2000). We show that early parenthood can have important and lasting impacts on voter turnout many years later. For Whites, early parenthood leads to increased risk of dropping out of high school. High school interruption has major negative impacts on later turnout, even when the student eventually returned to earn a diploma. The findings advance our understanding of the crucial period of adolescence by showing how race and event timing condition the impact of formative life events on later political participation. Keywords: youth voting; voter turnout; early parenthood; lifecycle transition; political participation

P

resident Bill Clinton (1996), in a 1996 commencement address asked, “What is the role of the individual citizen in making the America of our dreams in the 21st century?” His answer to young Americans was simple: Stay in school, don’t have a child, and if you do have a child, do the responsible thing and form a strong two-parent family. Aside from the person giving it, the advice was unremarkable. President Clinton’s admonitions reflect welldocumented challenges facing single-parent families, teen parents, and those

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with limited educational attainment. Do these same factors also apply to voter turnout? We will show that the answer is yes, but a highly qualified yes. Application of the standard socioeconomic status (SES) or resource models would suggest that limited education and the social stresses that frequently accompany early parenthood would be associated with lower voter turnout. But this generalization fails because it ignores racial and ethnic differences. The resource model needs to be augmented to account for the resiliency to social and economic hardship shown by African American families. In addition, resource and SES approaches do not anticipate differences in civic returns to education that characterize each racial and ethnic group. In short, we show that the seemingly obvious impacts of teen parenthood apply most to Whites and the effects of other resources vary substantially across lines of race and ethnicity. In making these arguments, we find that major life transitions in adolescence can have large and lasting impacts on later political participation. We focus on three teen transitions—teen parenthood, early marriage, and dropping out of high school—that can contribute to a pattern of cumulative disadvantage (Dannefer, 2003) because experiencing one teen transition often leads to another. For example, teen parents are more than 5 times as likely to drop out of high school compared to nonparents. In turn, these events can also set off other processes (reduced educational attainment, lower income, living in a low-SES context) that inhibit political participation (e.g., Verba, Schlozman, & Brady 1995), retard the acquisition of political knowledge and sophistication (Delli Carpini & Keeter, 1996; Gimpel, Lay, & Schuknecht, 2003), lead to reduced political voice in opinion polls (Berinsky, 2002), and ultimately reduce the ability to influence social welfare policies that might ameliorate economic hardship (Hill & Leighley, 1992). Patterns of cumulative disadvantage are complex and no doubt differ from setting to setting. For example, race, ethnicity, and language spoken at home may influence whether schools function to level the playing field or to exacerbate inequalities that children bring from their home and neighborhood. In examining the consequences of teen parenthood, early marriage, and dropping out of school, we contribute to illuminating a small piece of Authors’ Note: The authors gratefully acknowledge that this research was supported by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation to Plutzer and a small grant to both authors from the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. Of course, all conclusions and interpretations are those of the authors.

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this complex puzzle. In the process, we flesh out some of the important mechanisms that lead to large class biases in the electorate and speak to the broader challenges posed by unequal participation in electoral politics (Verba, 2003). We examine the direct effects and two potential consequences of teen parenthood. One potential consequence is teen marriage, a frequent response to early pregnancy, whether or not that pregnancy was planned. In many minds, early marriage is “doing the right thing” and—when it is a viable option—far preferable to single parenthood. Does early marriage mitigate the effects of early parenthood? A second consequence is disruption in schooling. Teen parenthood makes it more difficult to stay in school, complete a degree, and enroll in college. We therefore examine, for the first time we believe, the impacts of both temporary and permanent disruptions to schooling. We use data from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey (NELS), which begins with a nationally representative sample of students enrolled in the eighth grade in 1988. The students are interviewed 2, 4, 8, and 12 years later, and the more than 12,000 cases allow us to assess the impact of family transitions and high school performance on voting participation in four electoral periods. Although we cannot speak to cumulative impacts in later adulthood, recent research suggests that voting behavior in citizens’ first few eligible elections sets a pattern that will influence subsequent elections as well. This pattern is well documented not only in the United States but in established democracies more generally (Franklin, 2004). Therefore, our approach and findings may have relevance beyond the borders of the United States.

Should Early Parenthood Suppress Turnout? Adolescent parenthood leads to several negative consequences, particularly truncated education and eroded earnings (Adams, Adams-Tayler, & Pittman, 1989). In our data, 72% of all women who become mothers before their senior year in high school dropped out of school, accounting for 51% of all female dropouts; among men, early parenthood led to dropping out 52% of the time but accounts for only 13% of male dropouts (see also Barro, 1984). Not only does the birth of a child lead to dropping out of high school, it also increases income requirements. Young parents need more money to care for their children, but without a high school diploma, meeting basic needs is difficult, making acute economic hardship likely. Johnson and Sum

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(1987) found that in 1985, fewer than one third of all male dropouts earned enough to raise a family out of poverty. If SES represents the core resource for electoral participation (Verba et al., 1995), then early parenthood should clearly have at least indirect effects on voter turnout in young adulthood. This seems like common sense. But the common sense requires two important qualifications. We must consider the possibility of, first, direct effects and, second, potential race and ethnic differences. Should teen parenthood have an impact after controlling for educational attainment? Here the previous literature is less helpful. On one hand, early parenthood could be considered an early assumption of an “adult role”— a sign of maturity that would be concomitant with other signs of maturity, such as regular civic participation (Highton & Wolfinger, 2001). On the other, early parenthood may create acute stresses that impinge on the motivation or ability to participate (Rosenstone, 1982). To our knowledge, no empirical research on electoral participation has ever examined the impact of teen parenthood. We do that in this article. With respect to race, we expect the effects of early parenthood on voter turnout to vary across racial/ethnic groups. Blacks tend to begin childbearing before Whites (Chen & Morgan, 1991), a difference attributed to Blacks having less negative attitudes about nonmarital parenthood (Moore & Steif, 1991) and to lower SES and neighborhood origins where becoming a parent is less related to marriage (Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985; St. John & Rowe, 1990). Like African Americans, Hispanics are more likely than nonHispanic Whites to state that they intend to become parents early in life and outside of marriage (Trent & Crowder, 1997), though the overall research on Hispanic nonmarital childbearing and its economic impacts is fairly mixed (Driscoll, Biggs, Brindis, & Yankah, 2001; Robbins, Kaplan, & Martin, 1985). Overall, we expect that the impact of early parenthood will be most negative for Whites and least problematic for Blacks, with no clear expectation for Hispanics.

Teen Marriage: A Sign of Maturity or Immaturity? The impact of marriage on voter turnout has interested political scientists since at least the late 1950s (e.g., Glaser, 1959; Milbrath, 1965; Niemi, Hedges, & Jennings, 1977; Straits, 1991). Yet much of the literature concerns husband–wife similarity rather than the advantages or disadvantages of marriage per se, and marriage’s precise impact on turnout remains unclear.

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Among the most germane studies, Stoker and Jennings (1995) find that marriage reduces turnout slightly. Plutzer (2002), distinguishing between early and later marriage finds no effect of marriage before 22 years old and a positive impact for more mature citizens. However, both studies derive samples from the first wave of the Child-Adult Socialization Study (see Jennings & Niemi, 1981), which excluded high school dropouts. Thus, both studies’ samples are biased toward high-SES families, and neither study examined teen marriage, leaving open the question of how early marriage may affect turnout and its socioeconomic correlates. Highton and Wolfinger (2001) use the Current Population Survey and therefore have a more diverse sample; they find no net impact for marriage before age 25 but do not control for children in the household—a factor that might conceivably suppress a positive impact of marriage. More generally, if early marriage is associated with dropping out of school, then studies that control for education may obscure an indirect impact of early marriage on political participation via lower educational attainment. The sociological literature on educational attainment provides similarly ambiguous expectations. Marriage may provide “stability, maturity, purpose, and other generally accepted positive byproducts,” but the financial pressures and obligations of marriage “could affect the timing of participation in postsecondary education (i.e., delayed entry), a preference for parttime enrollment coupled with employment rather than full-time student status” (Sanderson, Dugoni, Rasinski, & Taylor, 1996, p. 29). Thus, the literature leads to two contradictory hypotheses. Conceived as a departure from the best formula for economic success and upward mobility, early marriage may indicate immaturity and interfere with educational attainment. In contrast, the adult roles perspective views marriage—after controlling for early parenthood—as a marker of maturity and an opportunity to expand social networks, which suggests a positive effect on youth voter turnout. As with early parenthood, we expect important racial differences in marriage effects. Early marriage has all but disappeared within Black youth communities. In 1989, Cherlin (1992) reports only 4% of 18- and 19-yearold Black women had married. Carlson (1979) argues that Blacks have larger obstacles to early marriage imposed by socioeconomic constraints. Perhaps most important, Lerman (2002) estimates that the “returns” from marriage in terms of financial status and economic well-being are larger for African Americans than for both Hispanic and non-Hispanic Whites. This suggests that any positive effects of marriage might be especially high among Blacks.

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Dropping Out and Dropping Back in Miller and Shanks (1996) show that the turnout gap between high school dropouts and high school graduates has grown during the past 40 years and that those without a high school diploma account for almost all of the decline in turnout during that period. Although all studies include dropouts as a category of educational attainment, no major study has focused specifically on the impact of dropping out. Moreover, because the impact and implications of dropping out differ across generations (completing high school was far less common among the New Deal generation), crosssectional studies can blur the distinction between dropouts and others. Like early parenthood and early marriage, dropping out from school is an indicator of human capital and is causally related to future events such as college enrollment. Dropping out of high school is associated with high unemployment, low earnings, poor health, increased demands on social services, a less skilled workforce, and increased criminal activity (Natriello, 1986; Rumberger, 1987; Weis, Farrar, & Petrie, 1989). Dropping out also has direct effects on voter turnout by limiting opportunities to develop civic skills, as suggested by Brady, Verba, and Schlozman (1995). They find that involvement in student government and vocabulary ability, which are increased because of schooling, are positively related to adult political participation. Schooling also affects adult participation by broadening social networks and increasing social capital through membership in various organizations and clubs that directly influence adult civic attitudes and participation (Beck & Jennings, 1982; Brady et al., 1995; Verba et al., 1995). Dropping out also reduces the total exposure to civics instruction, which has been found to have short-term impacts on participation (Chapin, 2000) and civic knowledge (Nie, Junn, & Stehlik-Barry, 1996). Hence, dropping out has indirect effects on political participation by derailing future educational plans but has direct effects by reducing opportunities to develop the civic and social skills needed to participate. In addition, individuals who eventually return to finish their diploma or GED are probably different from those who never return and from those who complete a degree without interruption. Can students who have a temporary dropout spell recover politically? Dropping out of high school is more prominent among minority groups than White students, although this effect is mediated primarily through SES (Rumberger & Thomas, 2000; U.S. Department of Education, 2001). Beattie (2002) suggests that there are important racial differences in the relationship between income returns and educational investments, implying that decisions to continue education may also vary by race. Downloaded from http://apr.sagepub.com by Juan Pardo on November 14, 2007 Š 2007 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.


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Racial and Ethnic Norms Not only does the incidence of early parenthood, early marriage, and educational attainment vary across racial groups, but the views of what is normative also differ. The American middle-class norms for childbearing are that people should not have children until their 20s and that they should avoid having children out of wedlock and before completing high school and attending college (Erikson, 1998). However, for minorities, there is evidence of an alternative set of norms in the timing and sequencing of these life events; both African Americans and Hispanics typically bear children earlier than Whites, and among Hispanics, educational achievement norms are lower than those of other groups (Erikson, 1998). Thus, adult status is achieved differently across racial and economic groups. Early marriage may be viewed as a sign of maturity in more traditional subcultures (e.g., many Hispanics) or in settings where high rates of single parenthood and low marriage rates are considered to be the roots of many social problems (e.g., poor African American communities). The perceived costs of early parenthood, early marriage, and dropping out of high school may also be lower for minorities. Adaptive family and community structures (e.g., social support from extended families) may reduce costs and hardships associated with teen parenthood (e.g., Stack, 1974). We would therefore expect lesser impacts of social and economic hardship among Blacks and, perhaps, Hispanics. Because the norms and consequences of these life events vary across racial groups, the mechanisms by which they are linked to civic participation—the data-generating process—must also differ. Hence, we perform separate analyses by race.

Data and Method We utilize the NELS, 1988-2000. The NELS is produced and distributed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The spring 1988 NELS baseline survey is a nationally representative sample of eighth graders attending 1,052 schools, both public and private, across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The completion rate for the initial wave was 93% (Curtin, Ingels, Wu, & Heuer, 2002, p. 195). A random subset of the respondents was selected for follow-up interviews in 1990, 1992, 1994, and 2000, and 79% of those students selected for follow-up actually completed the entire panel (Curtin et al., 2002, p. 205). Students were asked about numerous topics including family situation, family relations, and political participation. In addition to surveying the students, NCES also surveyed one of the Downloaded from http://apr.sagepub.com by Juan Pardo on November 14, 2007 Š 2007 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.


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child’s parents in 1988 (87% response rate) and again in 1992 (with a 92% retention rate). Like the students, parents were asked about family situation, family relations, school characteristics, and SES.

Dependent Variable Our dependent variable is based on questions during the third and fourth follow-ups in the spring of 1994 and 2000 (see appendix for variable descriptions). Respondents were asked about their voter participation in the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections, the 1993 local and state elections, any elections during 1998/1999 and their voter registration in 2000. Each respondent could report participation in up to four elections plus being registered in the spring of 2000, yielding a 0 to 5 index. We multiplied the index by 20 to get a dependent variable that ranges from 0 to 100 and reflects the percentage of the five acts with an affirmative report. On this scale, Hispanics have a somewhat lower reported turnout (M = 46%) than non-Hispanic Blacks (53%) and Whites (55%). All have considerable variation, with standard deviations of roughly 33% for each group.1

Independent Variables Early Parenthood Teens who indicated that they were a parent, pregnant, or expecting during the spring of their senior year (or what would have been their senior year had they matriculated without interruption) are classified as early parents. Whites were less likely to become early parents (5.2%) than Blacks (14.4%) or Hispanics (12.1%). A similar measure accounts for parenthood during the 2 years following high school.

Early Marriage Our measure of early marriage is constructed in similar fashion. If respondents answered that they were married, divorced, or widowed at the time of the senior year follow-up survey, they are coded as having been married by the spring of 12th grade. If respondents were married, divorced, or widowed at the time of the 1994 survey but single in the 1992 survey, they were coded as being married sometime between the end of high school

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and 2 years after. Consistent with previous literature, we find that Hispanics are more likely to marry before high school graduation (5.2%) than are either Whites (3.2%) or Blacks (1.8%).

Dropping Out of High School We distinguish between dropouts who eventually returned to finish their diploma and those who permanently stayed out of school. One dummy variable indicates dropouts who left before what would be their senior year (1992) and who never returned to high school; the second indicates dropouts who left before 12th grade but returned to finish their diploma or GED. We find that about 11% of Whites, 18% of Blacks, and 21% of Hispanics dropped out at least once before 12th grade. However, about half of the White dropouts and 40% of minority dropouts eventually earned a diploma or GED.

Postsecondary Educational Attainment One causal path that may link voter turnout to early marriage, dropping out of high school, and early parenthood is later educational attainment. Students who completed 4 years of higher education in 4 years plus a summer would have attained their degree a few months before the 1996 presidential election. We can calculate whether or not each respondent earned a college degree before any particular event in our participation scale, but we developed alternative measures that we think do a better job of capturing education at a time it might affect participation. We used a detailed set of monthly status questions from the 1994 interview to measure educational attendance during the 1993-1994 academic year—what would be the sophomore year of college if a student enrolled in college directly after high school. This measure is based on status reports during September, October, and November of 1993 and February, March, and April of 1994. A student who reported full-time attendance at a 4-year college or university during all 6 months received a score of 100%. A student who reported half-time attendance during all 6 months or full-time attendance for 3 months would receive a score of 50%. Students attending less than half-time are scored as 25% for that particular month. Thus, the scale ranges from 0% to 100%. The scale has a high correlation with parents’ education (r = .42). We created a similar score for attendance at 2-year colleges. This is negatively correlated with parents’ education, indicating that if a parent completed college, children tend to score 0 on this measure. On the other hand, the attendance at a 2-year college is positively correlated with Hispanic parental education.

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Table 1 College Enrollment in 1993-1994 Among All Students Who Earned a Diploma or GED by Race and Previous Dropout Status No College (%) 2 Year (%) 4 Year (%) Total (%) Whites with diploma or GED Never dropped out Dropped out once or more Blacks with diploma or GED Never dropped out Dropped out once or more Hispanics with diploma or GED Never dropped out Dropped out once or more

n

36.2 78.6

18.6 15.2

45.2 6.3

100.0 100.0

6,754 430

44.9 87.3

16.0 7.6

39.1 5.1

100.0 100.0

862 79

48.3 82.5

24.3 12.7

27.4 4.8

100.0 100.0

1,143 126

We believe these measures are better than traditional indicators of degrees earned because they capture educational experiences before 3 of the 5 components of our turnout scale and are roughly coterminous with a 4th component. Table 1 shows that the relationship between earning a high school degree and subsequent enrollment in an institution of higher education is a conditional one. For high school dropouts who never returned to earn either a diploma or GED, only 2% were later enrolled in a 2-year college and none in a 4-year institution. For those who did return and earn a degree, the chances of being enrolled in college were only slightly higher. Regardless of race or ethnicity, those who never interrupted their schooling were 3 to 4 times more likely to enroll in higher education than were those diploma holders who had one or more interruptions in their formal schooling. For the more than 80% of those dropouts who eventually earned a degree regardless of race, that high school degree was the end of their educational career rather than a means to further their education.

Additional Independent Variables We attempt to account for all other major factors than can influence the turnout of young citizens. We control for various familial influences by incorporating a 1988 family composition variable based on student responses about household composition and parent reports of their marital status. Values consist of living in a 2-parent nuclear household (omitted variable), a 2-parent “step” household, a 1-parent household because of divorce or separation, a

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1-parent household because of the death of a parent, a 1-parent unwed household, a 2-parent cohabitation household, and other, which includes multiplegeneration families and foster households. Similarly, we control for three types of family transitions that Sandell and Plutzer (2005) found can make a difference in later turnout: divorce, remarriage, and death of a parent. We also include measures of gender (female = 1), total family income in 1987, total family income in 1991 (values ranging from 1 for no income to 15 for $200,000 or more), parents’ highest degree earned (1-6), number of residential moves between 1988 and 1992, church attendance in 10th and 12th grade, and estimated parental voter turnout. Parental voter turnout is one of the most important factors for youth voter turnout (Verba, Schlozman, & Burns, 2005) and especially for turnout in one’s first election (Plutzer, 2002). Unfortunately, parents were asked no questions about their turnout or campaign participation. We therefore use a procedure described by Sandell and Plutzer (2005, especially Table A1) to estimate the probability that parents voted in the most recent presidential election. The General Social Survey is used to estimate a comprehensive prediction equation. The slopes from that equation are then used to make out sample estimates for all parents in the NELS sample.

Results Because the mechanisms that account for voter turnout and adult roles vary by race, we estimate separate regressions for non-Hispanic Whites, non-Hispanic Blacks, and Hispanics (because of small samples, American Indians and Asians are excluded).2 To account for clustering within schools, models are reported with Huber-White robust standard errors. In the first model, we isolate the impact of adult roles during high school; that is, we model voter turnout as a function of control variables and marriage or parenthood before the end of high school. To explore whether the impact of early marriage or early parenthood is mediated by dropping out of high school, we add the two dropout measures in the second model. Finally, in the third model, we add measures of adult roles immediately after the high school period (marriage and parenthood by the spring of 1994, 2 years after high school) and later educational attainment. This allows us to determine whether dropping out of high school and never returning has a direct impact on voter turnout or whether it is mediated by later educational attainment.

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Whites The ordinary least squares (OLS) regression analyses and robust standard errors for White respondents are presented in Table 2 (the table omits a large number of control variables to conserve space; the complete models are available from the authors on request). The first model shows that becoming a parent during or prior to the senior year of high school significantly decreases voter turnout among White youth; White respondents who become a parent by 1992 have turnout levels 12% lower than those who are childless throughout high school. To place this in context, our model shows that White respondents whose parents did not complete high school have turnout levels 6% lower than those whose parents completed college. Similarly, a White respondent whose parent had a 25% probability of voting would have a participation score 12% lower than an identical respondent whose parent had a 75% probability of voting. Thus, the effect of early parenthood is considerably stronger than parental education and equal to our estimate of politics in the home, generally regarded as the two most powerful family predictors of political participation (Verba et al., 2005, p. 110). We note that early marriage for Whites is insignificant, having no impact on voter turnout.

Gender Differences? It is plausible that early parenthood has differential impacts for women and men. We therefore reran Model 1 separately by gender but found similar results for each. White women who became parents before their senior year in high school have voter turnout levels 13% (p < .01 in one-tailed test) lower than those who remain childless, and White men who became parents in high school have voter turnout levels 9% (p < .05 in one-tailed test) lower than those who did not become a parent. Although the estimates differ, they are not significantly different from one another. The second model includes our two measures of dropping out of high school and produces three interesting findings. First, the coefficient for early parenthood has dropped from 11.2 to 4.7 and is no longer statistically significant. This suggests that early pregnancy decreases voter turnout among White students largely because it increases the likelihood of dropping out of high school. Second, White respondents who left high school by 12th grade and never returned had turnout levels 19% lower than respondents who never dropped out. Last, White respondents who dropped out of high school by 12th grade but returned to receive either a high school diploma or a GED have participation levels 10% lower than those who graduated on time and without interruption.

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Became a parent in or before senior year of high school Married in or before senior year of high school Dropped out by 12th grade and never returned Dropped out by 12th grade: Returned but returned to earn diploma or GED Became a parent in 2 years after senior year of high school Married in the 2 years after the senior year of high school Enrollment in community college 2 years after senior year of high school

Parental vote probability

Parental education

Independent Variable

1.59** (0.74) 0.24** (0.06) –11.24** (2.84) –0.30 (3.35)

1 1.24* (0.73) 0.20** (0.06) –4.69 (3.08) 0.93 (3.25) –19.34** (3.00) –9.80** (2.69)

2

3

1

3

1.61 1.64 (2.08) (2.10) 0.02 0.01 (0.15) (0.15) 4.61 4.59 (3.94) (4.53) 25.17* 25.79* (14.29) (14.81) –11.85** –8.36 (5.06) (5.38) –0.94 2.39 (4.73) (4.93) –3.85 (5.17) 0.16 (8.61) 0.20** (0.06)

2

Black Non-Hispanic

0.65 1.71 (0.73) (2.12) 0.18** 0.03 (0.06) (0.15) –3.67 2.35 (3.09) (3.82) 0.77 24.69* (3.33) (14.14) –16.71** (2.89) –7.18** (2.72) –0.724 (3.05) –2.05 (2.24) 0.10** (0.02)

White Non-Hispanic

Table 2 Multiple Regression Analysis: Predicting Voter Turnout

0.82 (1.94) 0.29** (0.13) –0.86 (4.42) 4.09 (7.22)

1

0.36 (2.04) 0.32** (0.14) 2.67 (4.74) 7.50 (7.22) –11.65** (5.27) –7.07 (6.37)

2

–0.21 (2.04) 0.30* (0.14) 4.37 (4.92) 6.92 (7.29) –8.87* (5.37) –4.99 (6.42) 2.17 (5.24) –4.56 (5.49) 0.06 (0.06)

3

Hispanic (All Races)


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23.33** (3.71) 5,616 .11

31.37** (3.86) 5,616 .13

0.08** 0.08* (0.01) (0.05) 33.99** 28.13** 32.96** 33.90** (4.10) (10.31) (10.60) (10.89) 5,616 636 636 636 .14 .12 .13 .15 22.54** (8.29) 817 .09

28.06** (8.80) 817 .10

0.14** (0.04) 29.32** (8.74) 817 .12

Note: Dependent variable is a voter turnout index. Coefficients are unstandardized ordinary least squares regression values. Standard errors are in parentheses. Also included in the model, though not shown: total family income 1987/1991, 1988 family composition, 1988-1992 family transitions, religiosity in 1990, religiosity in 1992, and the number of residential moves. *p < .05, one-tailed. **p < .01, one-tailed.

N Adjusted R2

Enrollment in 4-year college 2 years after senior year of high school Intercept


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To understand whether dropping out of high school has direct effects on voter turnout or acts indirectly through later educational attainment, we estimate a third model that includes our measures of higher education enrollment and also accounts for adult roles. The estimates of this model show that later educational attainment has a powerful impact on electoral participation. It is especially notable that attending a 2-year college full-time has a slightly larger impact (10% increase) than attending a 4-year college (8% increase).3 Interestingly, both of the dropout measures remain statistically significant and only slightly smaller in magnitude.4 This suggests that dropping out of high school has direct effects on White voter turnout that cannot be captured through diminished opportunities for later educational attainment.5

Blacks The OLS regression analyses and Huber-White robust standard errors for Black respondents are presented in the middle three columns of Table 2. In contrast to Whites, the first model shows that early parenthood has no significant effect on Black youth voter turnout. Early marriage has a robust positive effect for Black voter turnout; Black students who got married by the end of high school had levels of voter turnout 25% higher than those who did not get married. We are not sure why this effect occurs, and it is no longer statistically significant when we employ ordered logistic regression (p = .06, one-tailed). It is important to note that only about 2% of the sample (19 Black respondents) married before the end of high school. Ten respondents are men, 9 are women; their parentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; total family income ranges from $3,000 to $74,999; and these respondents have wide variance on the dependent variable. On closer inspection, we find that this small group is extremely religious, but when controlling for religiosity, the positive effect of early marriage persists. We suspect that married Black youth exhibit higher maturity levels, perhaps related to very traditional religious subcultures, but we lack the data to pursue this idea empirically. Again, we estimate Model 1 separately for men and women to see if the effects of early parenthood and marriage differ by gender. Similar to Whites, there were no significant differences when we stratified our sample by gender. Our second model for African Americans again focuses on dropping out of high school. Black youth who dropped out of high school by the 12th grade and never returned have levels of voter turnout 12% lower than respondents who stayed in schoolâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;in comparison to Whites, the cost of dropping out is considerably lower for Blacks. Indeed, Black dropouts who returned to eventually complete their GED or high school diploma have levels of voter turnout similar to students who stayed in school continuously.6 Downloaded from http://apr.sagepub.com by Juan Pardo on November 14, 2007 Š 2007 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.


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We added the 1994 adult life transitions and educational attainment in Model 3 to determine whether dropping out of high school and never returning lowered Black turnout because of a decreased opportunity to achieve later educational attainment. The third model for Blacks shows that much of the impact of dropping out of high school and never returning on turnout acts through higher educational attainment.7 The coefficient for the dropouts who never returned decreased in size and is no longer significant at the traditional levels. Last, both college enrollment variables are significant and substantively large; however, 2-year college enrollment has a larger impact than 4-year college enrollment.8 Respondents who attended a 2-year college fulltime have levels of voter turnout that are 20% higher than those who did not attend. Similarly, young Blacks who are enrolled in a 4-year college full-time have levels of voter turnout that are 8% higher compared to those respondents who are not enrolled.9

Hispanics The analyses for Hispanics are presented in the last three columns of Table 2. In Model 1, neither early parenthood nor early marriage has a significant effect on Hispanic youth voter turnout. These variables remain insignificant when we estimate the model separately for males and females. Model 2 examines dropping out, and the results for Hispanics are similar to those of African Americans, with those who never earn a degree having turnout levels roughly 12% lower than those completing a degree without interruption. The effect of dropping out but later returning is neither significantly different from zero nor significantly different from permanent dropouts.10 Model 3 shows that 4-year college enrollment has a very large effect on Hispanicsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; turnout (a 14% increase for full-time enrollment), whereas 2-year college enrollment has no significant impact on turnout levels. The coefficient for those dropouts who never returned decreases by about one third but remains significant.11 This implies that similar to White respondents, dropping out of high school by 12th grade has a large net effect on Hispanic youth voter turnout that is only partially accounted for by later educational attainment.12

Self-Selection? Can the observed results, especially those concerning teen parenthood among Whites, be because of unmeasured heterogeneity? Those who become teen parents may differ from other youth in important ways that are

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not captured by the 18 variables measuring fixed traits before middle school or the family characteristics and dynamics during the secondary school years. Omitted variable bias of this kind can never be entirely ruled out, and there is no perfect solution. However, to go beyond the data available, we examined an auxiliary data set, the Adolescent Health Panel Study (AddHealth), that contains a single report of turnout when respondents were roughly 19 to 25 years old. The Add-Health data permit comparing teen parents to those who became pregnant but miscarried (or males whose partners miscarried). If self-selection creates a spurious relationship between teen parenthood and turnout, then those who miscarry should show the same effects as those who carry their pregnancy to term. The results—available on request—show that those who miscarried (n = 105) were no different from those who reported no pregnancy at all (the logistic regression slope was as close to 0 as one might imagine, .00087). Although the data are by no means perfectly comparable to the NELS participation scale, they provide the only opportunity we know of to test this idea and offer additional confidence in our causal interpretation of the effect of teen parenthood.

Discussion and Implications We find strong evidence that “nonpolitical” events can influence voter turnout and specified some of the causal mechanisms in ways that have important implications for both our understanding of turnout and the methods we employ to study it. Moreover, the effects of teen experiences are at least as strong as the impact of family characteristics measured at the beginning of middle school and other family transitions (parental divorce) over which youth have little control. One third of the total explained variation is because of teen parenthood and educational experiences (35% for Whites, 34% for Blacks, and 31% for Hispanics), even after allowing all shared explained variance to be accounted for by parental SES and other background characteristics.

Race and Ethnicity Matter We found not only that the incidence of hardship does vary across racial and ethnic boundaries but also that the effects on later turnout differ substantially. Consistent with theoretical expectations derived from the sociological literatures on race, family, and poverty, early parenthood has a very large impact on the political participation of young White citizens but does

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not affect Blacks or Hispanics. We also see clearly that higher educational institutions, which embody the society’s hopes to level the socioeconomic playing field, provide different civic returns to each group. In addition, returning for a high school degree or GED helps minorities recover from early disruptions in schooling, but this benefit is smaller for Whites who drop out before the 12th grade.

Education Is More Complex Than Our Typical Measures A generation ago, Converse (1972) referred to education as the “universal solvent”—a variable that has powerful and pervasive effects on nearly every aspect of political behavior. In recent years, political scientists have made significant strides in unpacking the concept of education into various components (Hillygus, 2005; Nie et al., 1996). Here, we contribute to that effort by showing that the civic consequences of staying in school and dropping out are far more complex than is typically appreciated by political scientists. We show, for example, that the category of high school diploma is a diverse one, with roughly 1 in 6 high school graduates having dropped out at some point. These findings suggest that political scientists would be better served if standard data collection efforts not only asked about final educational attainment but also disaggregated high school graduates into traditional students who completed school without interruption and others—including many GED holders—who had a less traditional track. We also show that attending a community college is more effective in spurring later turnout than is attending a 4-year college for Whites and, especially, for Blacks. Political scientists know little about community colleges, and we lack theory on which to develop reasonable hypotheses. Yet 2-year colleges are an increasingly important institution in influencing the socioeconomic resources that citizens bring to politics. In 2001-2002, 6.2 million students were enrolled in degree-granting 2-year colleges compared to 9.6 million in 4-year institutions (U.S. Department of Education, 2003, Table 172). Unfortunately, the National Election Studies does not distinguish among those with some experience at a 4-year college, those with some experience at a 2-year college, and those holding an associate’s degree; the General Social Survey identifies holders of associate’s degrees but lumps all 2- and 4-year college attendees in with those who completed high school and then stopped. Whether or not these distinctions are important in general population samples is an open question—but one that cannot be tested empirically given current questionnaire designs.

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Cumulative Disadvantage Some hardships that influence voter turnout are widely distributed across racial and economic groups. Divorce, unemployment, and residential mobility are widely distributed across all economic strata, and all can lower turnout (Rosenstone, 1982; Sandell & Plutzer, 2005; Squire, Wolfinger, & Glass, 1987). Presumably, the effects of short-term hardships such as divorce, mobility, and unemployment are overcome over the life course and dissipate at the individual level. More important, they do not have concentrated impacts on the participation rates of large social groups. The factors we examined in this article are different. They are highly interrelated in the lives of individuals, and they tend to be concentrated both socially and geographically. These interconnections create structures of hardship that systematically contribute to class bias in the electorate. Among Hispanics, for example, high school dropouts have virtually no chance to attend a 4-year collegeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the only kind of postsecondary experience that seems to benefit them (among those with early disruptions and who eventually returned for a high school diploma or GED, only 4% were enrolled in a 4-year college in 1993-1994). Because Hispanics are the most likely group to experience disruptions in schooling, these mechanisms tend to concentrate low turnout risk factors among Hispanics. Among Whites, early parenthood is less common than among minorities. Yet even here there is evidence of the concentration of hardship socially and geographically because family income is a much stronger predictor of teen parenthood for Whites than for Blacks or Hispanics. Second, early parenthood increases the risk of dropping out more for Whites than others, and dropping out has the largest negative impact on Whites. Thus, here too hardships are likely to not only cumulate over the lives of individuals but also to concentrate in low-income subpopulations. We have only scratched the surface in terms of the ways that political scientists can explore patterns of cumulative advantage and disadvantage. Yet we believe that our results and framing are suggestive of how systematic attention to cumulative patterns can enhance the study of political participation and how it speaks to questions of equity raised by democratic theory.

Appendix Dependent Variable Voter turnout: VOTEPCT, created by combining answers from NATELEC, VOTEPRES, F4IVPRE, F4IVANY, and F4IRVOTE. All variables were added together to create

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ALLVOTE, a 5-point scale, and 1 was subtracted from F4IRVOTE to separate those who abstained from voting but were registered. One was added to ALLVOTE, and then it was multiplied by 20 to create VOTEPCT, a 0% to 100% voter participation range. Independent Variables Early parenthood: Combined values from F2S76 and F2D66, which asked respondents whether they were pregnant, expecting, or had a child during the 1992 survey. We used F3NUMCHL and F4GNCH to gather information about whether the respondent had any children by the 1994 or 2000 survey but not before 1992 to create two distinct dummy variables: early parenthood by 1992 and early parenthood after 1992. Early marriage: Combined values from F2S73 and F2D5A from the 1992 survey. We used F3MARST to measure respondents who were married during the 1994 survey but not before 1992, thus creating two distinct dummy variables: early marriage by 1992 and early marriage after 1992. Dropout status: Used F1DOSTAT, F2EVDOST, and F2DOSTAT to determine whether respondents dropped by 1992 (12th grade). We then used HSSTAT, which measures a respondentâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s high school status during the 1994 survey, to determine whether dropouts eventually returned to get their GED or diploma, thus creating two dummy dropout measures. Base year family composition: Created by combining answers from BYFCOMP and BYP7. By combining these two variables, value labels for BYFAM include 2-parent nuclear household, 2-parent step household, 1-parent household because of divorce or separation, 1-parent household because of death of a parent, 1-parent unwed household, 2-parent cohabitation, other family. Family transitions: Used F1S99C, F1D94B, F2P18A1, F2P18A2, F2P18B1, and F2P18B2 to compute parental divorce anytime between 1988 and 1990 (1 = yes, 0 = no). Used F2S96B, F2D80B, F2P18C1, F2P18C2, F2P18D1, and F2P18D2 to compute parental divorce anytime between 1990 and 1992. Combined F1S99B and F1D94C to compute parental remarriage anytime between 1988 and 1990. Used F2S96C and F2D80C to compute parental remarriage anytime between 1990 and 1992. Used F1S99J, F1D94J, F1S99K, and F1D94I to compute parental death between 1988 and 1990. Used F2S96H and F2D80H to compute parental death between 1990 and 1992. Gender: BYS12 1 = female, 0 = male Residential mobility from 1988 to 1992: Created from combining F1S99A, F2S96A, and F2S102. 0 = no moves, 1 = one move, 2 = two moves, 3 = three or more moves. Sophomore status in 4-year college (sophomore status in a 2-year college): Created from combining answers from ENRL0993, ENRL1093, ENRL1193, ENRL0294, ENRL0394, and ENRL0494, which asked respondents in F3 about their full- and parttime classes in either 2- or 4-year colleges for September, October, and November of

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1993 and for February, March, and April of 1994 (the academic school year). Variables were divided into 2- and 4-year colleges and coded on a percentage scale ranging from 0% to 100%. Church attendance 1990/1992: Created from F1S82, F2S106, F1D71, and F2D88. The question asked respondents during the F1/F2 surveys: “In the past year, about how often have you attended religious services?” 0 = not at all, 2 = several times a year, 3 = about once a month, 4 = 2 or 3 times a month, 5 = about once a week, 6 = more than once a week. Total family income during 1987/1991: BYP80 and F2P74, the question asked parents during the BY (F2) study the following: “What was your total family income from all sources in 1987 (1991)? (If you are not sure about the amount please estimate)”. 1 = none, 2 = less than $1,000, 3 = $1,000-$2,999, 4 = $3,000-$4,999, 5 = $5,000-$7,499, 6 = $7,500-$9,999, 7 = $10,000-$14,999, 8 = $15,000-$19,999, 9 = $20,000-$24,999, 10 = $25,000-$34,999, 11 = $35,000-$49,999, 12 = $50,000-$74,999, 13 = $75,000$99,999, 14 = $100,000-$199,999, 15 = $200,000 or more. In the event that F2P74 was missing, the mean was used. Parental education: BYPARED coded as 1 = did not finish high school, 2 = high school grad or GED, 3 = more than high school less than 4-year degree, 4 = college graduate, 5 = MA or equivalent, 6 = PhD, MD, or other, 7 = don’t know. Parental voter turnout: Created from the General Social Survey (GSS). Variables included in the regression analysis to predict parental voter turnout include DIVOR5 indicates divorce in the past 5 years and is measured as a dummy variable where 1 = yes, 0 = no; AGE measured as a dummy variable with 20 to 28 years old as the omitted dummy; SOUTH measured as 1 = South, 0 = other region; EDUCATION measured as a dummy variable where less than high school diploma is the omitted variable; FULLTIME employment where 1 = yes, 0 = no; PARTIME employment where 1 = yes, 0 = no; BLACK, OTH, and HISP as three separate race dummy variables; and FAMINCOME as a continuous variable measured in $1,000s. The regression analysis from the GSS is shown in Table A1 in Sandell and Plutzer (2005).

Notes 1. The National Education Longitudinal Survey, 1988-2000, does not classify adolescents according to citizenship. We were able to identify 477 respondents who gave valid answers to all five electoral participation measures who were born abroad and whose parents were also born abroad. Among these, the rate of turnout was on average about 25% lower, but more than two thirds reported at least one act of electoral participation indicating that they were citizens. We reran all models two different ways: First, we included a dummy variable indicating that all members of the family were born abroad. Second, we re-estimated all models with these respondents excluded. None of the variables changed significance levels. Although it is likely that some of these respondents who scored a zero on the electoral measures were not citizens,

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at most these would be a tiny fraction in any given model and in any case do not change the substantive findings. 2. Because the dependent variable has six discrete values and is not truly continuous, we also estimated all models by ordered logistic regression. The results are essentially unchanged and, with two small exceptions noted in the text, all substantive conclusions drawn from our ordinary least squares models are confirmed using ordered logit. 3. We included a variable that measured whether or not the respondent lived at home in 1994 and 2000 to account for the large impact of community college. This variable does not affect the magnitude of the community college effect, nor does it change any of our conclusions. 4. We ran Model 3 substituting a five-category measure of final degree earned for our two enrollment measures. All four dummy variables were significant, and the model explained roughly the same amount of overall variance (R2 = .141 vs. .143 in the original model). But the substantive results are essentially unchanged: The dropout coefficients were nearly identical (B = –17.84 vs. –16.71 for the permanent dropouts and B = –7.82 vs. –7.18 for the dropouts who eventually returned to high school). When controlling for degree earned and our two enrollment measures simultaneously in Model 3, the enrollment measures changed to .08 for 2-year colleges and .05 for 4-year colleges (vs. .10 and .08, respectively), showing that enrollment has large, independent effects even after controlling for degree earned, providing further evidence for the validity of our measure. 5. To test some direct effects of dropping out of high school, we included variables that measured involvement in student government and reading proficiency scores. Neither of these variables made the dropout effects disappear. Thus, the impact of dropping out must be because of factors other than these suggested by the literature. 6. In results not shown here, we include the student government and reading proficiency variables to try to explain away the dropout impact on voter turnout among Blacks. As with Whites, neither variable accounted for the negative effects of dropping out of school. 7. We ran Model 3 with the degree earned variable. The permanent dropout coefficient was nearly identical to Model 3 without the enrollment measures (B = –10.65 vs. –8.36 for the never returned dropouts). 8. Again, we included a variable measuring whether the respondent lived at home with his or her parents in 1994 and 2000. This variable did not change any of our conclusions and did not influence the size of the coefficient for community college. 9. The 4-year college coefficient is insignificant when analyzed using an ordered logistic regression. 10. As with Whites and Blacks, neither the addition of the student government variable nor the reading proficiency measure made the dropout effect disappear. 11. We ran Model 3 with the degree earned variable. The results are essentially unchanged, though this variable is significant (B = –9.64 vs. –8.87 previously). 12. The variables that measured whether the respondent lived at home with parents in Waves 3 and 4 did not change any of our conclusions in the model about college attendance.

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Jennings, M. K., & Niemi, R. G. (1981). Generations and politics: A panel study of young adults and their parents. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Johnson, C., & Sum, A. (1987). Declining earnings of young men: Their relation to poverty, teen pregnancy, and family formation. Washington, DC: Children’s Defense Fund. Lerman, R. I. (2002). How do marriage, cohabitation, and single parenthood affect the material hardships of families with children? Report Prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Milbrath, L. W. (1965). Political participation. Chicago: Rand McNally. Miller, W. E., & Shanks, J. M. (1996). The new American voter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Moore, K. A., & Steif, T. M. (1991). Changes in marriage and fertility behavior: Behavior versus attitudes of young adults. Youth & Society, 22, 362-386. Natriello, G. (Ed.). (1986). School dropouts: Patterns and policies. New York: Teachers College Press. Nie, N. H., Junn, J., & Stehlik-Barry, K. (1996). Education and democratic citizenship in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Niemi, R. G., Hedges, R., & Jennings, M. K. (1977). The similarity of husbands’ and wives’ political views. American Politics Quarterly, 5, 133-148. Plutzer, E. (2002). Becoming a habitual voter: Inertia, resources, and growth in young adulthood. American Political Science Review, 96, 41-56. Robbins, C., Kaplan, H. B., & Martin, S. S. (1985). Antecedents of pregnancy among unmarried adolescents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 47, 567-583. Rosenstone, S. J. (1982). Economic adversity and voter turnout. American Journal of Political Science, 26, 25-46. Rumberger, R. W. (1987). High school dropouts: A review of issues and evidence. Review of Educational Research, 99, 238-266. Rumberger, R. W., & Thomas, S. L. (2000). The distribution of dropout and turnover rates among urban and suburban high schools. Sociology of Education, 73, 39-67. Sandell, J., & Plutzer, E. (2005). Families, divorce, and voter turnout. Political Behavior, 27, 133-162. Sanderson, A., Dugoni, B., Rasinski, K., & Taylor, J. (1996). National Education Longitudinal Study: 1988-1994. Descriptive summary report (NCES 96-175). Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics. Squire, P., Wolfinger, R. E., & Glass, D. P. (1987). Residential mobility and voter turnout. American Political Science Review, 81, 45-66. St. John, C., & Rowe, D. (1990). Adolescent background and fertility norms: Implications for racial differences in early childbearing. Social Science Quarterly, 71, 152-162. Stack, C. (1974). All our kin: Strategies for survival in a Black community. New York: Basic Books. Stoker, L., & Jennings, M. K. (1995). Life-cycle transitions and political participation: The case of marriage. American Political Science Review, 89, 421-433. Straits, B. C. (1991). Bringing strong ties back in interpersonal gateways to political information and influence. Public Opinion Quarterly, 55, 432-448. Trent, K., & Crowder, K. (1997). Adolescent birth intentions, social disadvantage, and behavioral outcomes. Journal of Marriage and Family, 59, 523-535. U.S. Department of Education. (2001). Dropout rates in the United States: 2000 (NCES 2002114). Washington, DC: National Center of Education Statistics. U.S. Department of Education. (2003). Digest of educational statistics. Retrieved on June 22, 2005, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d03/

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Verba, S. (2003). Would the dream of political equality turn out to be a nightmare? Perspectives on Politics, 1, 663-680. Verba, S., Schlozman, K. L., & Brady, H. E. (1995). Voice and equality: Civic voluntarism in American politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Verba, S., Schlozman, K. L., & Burns, N. (2005). Family ties: Understanding the intergenerational transmission of participation. In A. S. Zuckerman (Ed.), The social logic of politics (pp. 95-114). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Weis, L., Farrar, E., & Petrie, H. G. (1989). Dropouts from school: Issues, dilemmas, and solutions. New York: State University of New York Press.

Julianna Sandell Pacheco is a 3rd-year graduate student in the Political Science Department at Pennsylvania State University. Eric Plutzer is a professor in the Political Science Department at Pennsylvania State University. He is the coauthor of Ten Thousand Democracies: Politics and Public Opinion in Americaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s School Districts.

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can be found at: American Politics Research Additional services and information for P resident Bill Clinton (1996), in a 1996 commencement...

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